Behavioral Defenses

"I am now going to share with you some new descriptions that I came up with in regard to these behavioral defenses. We adopt different degrees and combinations of these various types of behavior as our personal defense system, and we swing from one extreme to the other within our own personal spectrum. I am going to share these with you because I find them enlightening and amusing and to make a point.

The Aggressive-Aggressive defense, is what I call the militant bulldozer. This person, basically the counter-dependent, is the one whose attitude is "I don't care what anyone thinks." This is someone who will run you down and then tell you that you deserved it. This is the survival of the fittest, self-righteous fanatic, who feels superior to most everyone else in the world. This type of person despises the human weakness in others because he/she is so terrified and ashamed of her/his own humanity.

The Aggressive-Passive person, or self-sacrificing bulldozer, will run you down and then tell you that they did it for your own good and that it hurt them more than it did you. These are the types of people who aggressively try to control you for your own good - because they think that they know what is right and what you should do and they feel obligated to inform you. This person is constantly setting him/herself up to be the perpetrator because other people do not do things the right way, that is, his/her way.

The Passive-Aggressive, or militant martyr, is the person who smiles sweetly while cutting you to pieces emotionally with her/his innocent sounding, double-edged sword of a tongue. These people try to control you for your own good but do it in more covert, passive-aggressive ways. They only want the best for you, and sabotage you every chance they get. They see themselves as wonderful people who are continually and unfairly being victimized by ungrateful loved ones - and this victimization is their main topic of conversation/focus in life because they are so self-absorbed that they are almost incapable of hearing what other people are saying.

The Passive-Passive, or self-sacrificing martyr, is the person who spends so much time and energy demeaning him/herself, and projecting the image that he/she is emotionally fragile, that anyone who even thinks of getting mad at this person feels guilty. They have incredibly accurate, long-range, stealth guilt torpedoes that are effective even long after their death. Guilt is to the self-sacrificing martyr what stink is to a skunk: the primary defense.

These are all defense systems adopted out of a necessity to survive. They are all defensive disguises whose purpose is to protect the wounded, terrified child within.

These are broad general categories, and individually we can combine various degrees and combinations of these types of behavioral defenses in order to protect ourselves."

"The expanded usage of the term codependent now includes counter-dependent behavior. We have come to understand that both the passive and the aggressive behavioral defense systems are reactions to the same kinds of childhood trauma, to the same kinds of emotional wounds.

The Family Systems Dynamics research shows that within the family system, children adopt certain roles according to their family dynamics. Some of these roles are more passive, some are more aggressive, because in the competition for attention and validation within a family system the children must adopt different types of behaviors in order to feel like an individual.

A large part of what we identify as our personality is in fact a distorted view of who we really are due to the type of behavioral defenses we adopted to fit the role or roles we were forced to assume according to the dynamics of our family system."

Classic Codependent Couple

Each of us has our own spectrum of behavioral defenses to protect us from fear of intimacy. We can be codependent in one relationship and counter-dependent in another - or we can swing from co to counter - within the same relationship.

Codependent, Come here

Fear of abandonment issues

*People pleasing, gentle, nice & kind

*Avoids conflict, can't own anger

Able to be emotionally vulnerable but often in manipulative way (cries instead of expressing anger)

When afraid that abandonment is happening can get needy and clingy - beg, grovel

Terror of intimacy causes to them to pick unavailable people (don't believe they truly deserve someone available and loving)

Sees setting boundaries as being controlling

Sometimes calls childish clinging love

*(passively controlling & manipulative)

Counter-dependent, Go away

Fear of being taken hostage, of being smothered

*Tough, strong and independent

*Uses anger as shield, often overreacts then isolates in shame

Terrified of being emotionally vulnerable - feels life threatening (may have been in childhood)

Is terrified of needy, clingy part of them self, sees it as weak, wimpy -runs from own neediness

Terror of intimacy causes them to be unavailable - often feel that they are incapable of loving

Sometimes uses setting boundaries as way of controlling

Sees caring as being clingy

*(aggressively controlling & manipulative)

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 30). Behavioral Defenses, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Last Updated: January 2, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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